VMware and the Container in the Room

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    VMworld is as big and popular as ever, with legions of faithful swarming to San Francisco to see what the virtualization giant and its ecosystem of third-party developers has in store for the coming year. And without doubt, there is a lengthy line-up of advancements destined to propel the technology into the Big Data and Internet of Things architectures that will define IT infrastructure for the early 21st Century.

    This year, however, there is what can best be described as a mouse-sized elephant in the room in the form of container-style virtualization championed by Docker, Google and others. Its impact has been relatively small on VMware to date, but it has the potential to make life very difficult given its propensity to support IoT-style workloads more adeptly and at less cost than plain-vanilla virtualization.

    It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that Google chose this moment to announce its new Google Container Engine based on the existing Kubernetes platform. Released as a service with 99.5 percent uptime, the Container Engine promises to enable provisioning and management of container clusters within minutes, with a full feature set that includes logging and health maintenance to provide for extensive application management within the containerized environment. The system is designed specifically for Docker containers, rather than the general Linux container supported by Kubernetes, but it also provides a level of automation that allows admins to simply define the parameters of operation while leaving resource utilization and other tasks to the software.

    Open source platforms like OpenStack are also eager to incorporate containers as a means to simplify the development of distributed cloud architectures, even if that means bypassing the virtual layer, says Information Week’s Charles Babcock. OpenStack’s Magnum Project offers three ways to deploy containers: within a virtual machine, on bare-metal infrastructure and inside other containers. In all likelihood, each approach will offer various features and capabilities that will make them more suitable to some apps and services than others, and this will enable the enterprise to mix-and-match different container styles for select functions – which should be a tremendous boon as more business processes are supported by microservices rather than monolithic apps. But OpenStack has gained a fairly limited footprint in enterprise settings, so it could be a while before this level of functionality goes mainstream.

    Of course, this only circles back to Google and Kubernetes, which is also an open source solution, says The VAR Guy’s Michael Vizard. Google, in fact, is already working toward allowing Kubernetes to map containers directly to OpenStack and is seeking to leverage the Magnum Project to provide a single management interface for both containers and VMs. At the same time, the company is working with Mirantis to integrate Kubernetes into the Murano application catalog to enable rapid app deployment across OpenStack distributions.


    All of this puts VMware in a tricky position – one that has plagued proprietary solutions providers since time immemorial: how to embrace open source without giving up a dominant position within a technology sector. The company has long touted its insistence that containers work best when deployed within a broader virtual ecosystem, but the rise of alternate approaches such as bare metal suggests the enterprise may not fully embrace that idea, and that would knock VMware off its perch as the dominant provider of virtual infrastructure in the IT industry. This may be why VMware is investigating a standalone container management platform, although it is unclear how such a solution would see widespread deployment without cannibalizing VMware’s legacy portfolio.

    The simple answer for VMware is that if containers are to become the new “it technology,” VMware will have to dominate there as well. This is easier said than done, however, given the head start that Docker, Google and others have on the market, but it is certainly not impossible for a company that already owns the virtual layer.

    Barring that, of course, VMware will have to get used to the idea that it is no longer the top dog when it comes to virtualization, but one of what is likely to be a broad array of solutions providers.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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